Cobots: can humans and robots make it work?

in StemSocial8 months ago

Many technologically-centric folks like to think that human beings would all be replaced by robots in the nearest future. Now nobody wants to feel like they are replaceable, so what if a compromise is reached? What if there were robots that could work hand in hand with humans? Well, it looks like we are in luck because they already exist! These marvelous wonders are called cobots. They are robots that come with built-in social skills and safety measures that make them safe for direct human contact. With Cobots, automation can still be achieved without a discard of the entire human workforce.

What is a Cobot?

A cobot, an acronym for a collaborative robot, is a robot that is made for safe direct contact with humans within a shared space. They could also exist in close range to human beings, unlike many other robots which need to be well separated from humans. Cobots are also much more versatile than conventional robots as they can be used to achieve a much wider range of tasks. They are very different from industrial robots and are made safe via varying measures. If you are wondering where you could find a cobot then think of cashier stands, houses but you might have to wait for a decade or so. Now that you know what a cobot is let’s look at how cobots came to be.

How Cobots came to be

Most of the Robots we get to see or watch are industrial robots. Cobots are rarely seen but they have been around for over two decades. Cobots were invented way back in 1996 by two professors, J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, from Northwestern University, USA.

The duo patented the idea in 1997. The first cobots were created at that time and were safe due to the lack of an internal source of motive power. Cobots have evolved since then and now operate at different motive power levels. You just love to see it, don't you!

What are Cobots made for?

Cobots are designed to carry out varying tasks. A cobot’s capabilities would most likely depend on where it is designed to work. Here are common tasks that cobots could be specialized to carry out.

  • Logistics: cobots are used in delivering packages. They usually work within an enclosed area such as a large building.
  • Information sharing: cobots can be used to share information in public spaces.
  • Manufacturing: cobots can work hand in hand with humans for faster and more efficient product creation, packaging, and distribution.

Not all cobots have the same interactive capability. There are four different levels that were determined by the International Federation of robotics. They are:

  1. Sequential Collaboration: This is a very close collaboration with humans and robots working in the same space. However, work is done in a sequential manner i.e they work on separate parts at a given time.
  2. Coexistence; This involves humans and robots working together without a barrier. There is still a bit of proximity as a workspace will not be shared.
  3. Responsive Collaboration: This involves the robot responding to the actions of the human in real-time.
  4. Cooperation: Both parties work on parts at the same time without any restrictions. It can be considered as the riskiest of all four.

Why use a Cobot?

You can think of cobots as automated assistants which would help you get tasks done in a faster and more efficient manner. As if the help they render is not good enough, cobots are quite affordable and many can be gotten for less than $50 thousand.

The benefits of using a cobot do not end there. With a Cobot, you can do away with boring and repetitive tasks. You can also use the Cobot in doing things that are dangerous for you. After learning of all its benefits you might still be wary of ease of setup and usability. While this is a valid concern you should know that lots of improvements have been made to cobots. Most well-manufactured cobots have been made very easy to set up and quite flexible.

Another reason to consider using a cobot is how versatile they are. A single cobot can simply be refitted with different grippers so they can perform a new task. This means that no matter what you choose to do the cobot will be available for all the extra help you need.

The key differences between collaborative robots and industrial robots

SnIndustrial RobotsCobots
1.Cannot work directly with humansCan engage in direct and efficient work with humans
2.Not versatile as they are usually highly specialized to carry out specific industrial tasksVery versatile: can be used in a variety of environment for different tasks
3.Very high level of accuracy as these robots are usually used in manufacturingAccuracy not as high as in industrial robots as cobots handle a wide range of tasks
4.Easy to design due to low complexity leveldesign can be quite a challenge as these robots a quite complex

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Will cobots thrive?

Originally many companies and manufacturers favour industrial robots over humans. This is because these robots are seen as the more cost-effective and efficient options. Using this most people predicted the complete replacement of humans in many professions.

Well, judging by the current trend this is likely not to be the case. While cobot sales only make up about 5% of sales generated by the robots market it looks like new entrants into the market could alter things soon.

Small and medium scale businesses mostly find industrial robots unaffordable. These robots also have much more power than they need in most cases. With cobots, they are able to get automated work done at a much lower price. They also cut on cost as they do not need to train these robots from scratch.

While the shift seems unlikely due to the current market trends there is a very good possibility that inbuilt social skills possessed by cobots will give them an edge in the market in coming years. Fingers crossed and may the best robots win.

Thank you all for reading.

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I've seen several humanoid robots that can perform tasks almost like humans. Ar those once considered cobots too?

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